English football over the last 30 years has rapidly evolved. Everything, it seems revolves around that lone striker. Gone are the days of sticking two up top in a 4-4-2 system, in a bid to take control in the midfield areas, sacrificing that second striker, for a third midfield player in a 4-3-3 system.
Brendan Rodgers is just one of most managers in European football who have adopted this modern approach to the game. Ever since he first came to Liverpool he has had no hesitation in utilising the 4-3-3 formation, which he became so familiar with at Watford, Reading and Swansea. The plan being to outnumber the opposition in the midfield areas, devastating teams on the counter attack, with his philosophy of neat and snappy football.
It’s fair to say this approach didn’t give Rodgers or LFC great success last season. Only on occasions did we see the potential Rodgers’ young side really do possess. And a mediocre 7th position, back this up.
However, I don’t think the 4-3-3 system could be blamed for this. At times the system allowed LFC to really outclass some of the best teams in the country (City home and away, Unite, home, Arsenal, Away). You might be thinking to yourself, but we didn’t win any of those games, which is very true. It was LFC’s inability to take their chances rivalled with a squad that beyond Suarez and Gerrard really lacked the quality required to compete with the premier Leagues big guns.
However this season we have seen Brendan Rodgers deploy a number of different formations and tactics;
One of which, is the 5-3-2. This, on paper, looked like a perfect match for the squad at Rodgers’ disposal. It allowed LFC to play three of their four top quality centre backs, Glen Johnson and Jose Enrique (when fit) are made for the right and left wing-back positions. It still allows LFC to have 3 central midfielders and control the middle of the park. And of course enables the S-A-S to both play in their favoured and most lethal positions.
For a spell of 4 or 5 games this system really worked well. LFC were beating teams for fun, especially at Anfield.
However injuries to Jose Enrique and Glen Johnson really tested the depth of Liverpool’s squad. And although young John Flanagan came in and stepped up to the task magnificently. On loan left back Aly Cissokho Couldn’t do the same. Which was uncovered when Liverpool went to the Emirates earlier on this season. The full backs were never in the game, not providing support to the attack nor getting back to defend. Arsenal just kept putting the ball over the top for Walcott to run onto, and my god did it work.
After flirting with the 5-3-2, Rodgers reverted back to the more familiar 4-3-3. However in the recent fixture Vs Aston Villa, LFC set up in a 4-4-2 system. Allowing Sturridge and Suarez to continue their lethal form upfront together. However LFC were simply blown away in that first half. Villa had three or even four players at times in the central midfield area, passing the ball round Gerrard and Henderson like a training exercise. Agbonglahor had the beating of Toure every time and Skrtel couldn’t lay a finger on Benteke.
But LFC came out in that second half and went to a 4-3-3 with Sturridge playing out wide which resulted in a hard-fought 2-2 draw.
The response by Rodgers was to field a 4-3-3 vs Everton. Perhaps the biggest Merseyside Derby in recent history. Liverpool had to win this game. And my word was there a response. The 4-3-3 saw Sturridge and Suarez constantly changing positions from LW to ST to lethal effect. The system allowed Liverpool to have numbers back defending, but in the blink of an eye they were on the counter, every time Sterling or Coutinho picked up the ball, you could tell something was going to happen.
It really was a perfect example of how to use the 4-3-3 and I would be very surprised now, if that system got changed.